Assad's Gone Qaddafi
The world is finally coming around to take note of what has been going on for months in blood-soaked Syria. After a UN Security Council briefing, Britain's deputy ambassador told reporters that some 2000 Syrians have been killed, 3,000 have "disappeared," 13,000 have been detained and tens of thousands more have fled their homes.
Thanks to YouTube and other web-based communications, the so-called international community is well aware of the massacres that have taken place all over the country, but particularly in the north, where people have sought, often unsuccessfully, to escape to Turkey. Led by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, several Arab states have finally roused themselves to condemn Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on both protesters and anyone that his forces happen to shoot at. Riyadh as well as the Kuwaitis and Bahrainis have all pulled their ambassadors from Damascus; Qatar did so some time ago.
Turkey, having formulated a "neighborhood" policy in 2002 that led to intimate ties with the Assad regime, now sees its policy in ruins. Prime Minister Recip Erdogan, the father of that policy, is naturally furious at Assad for leading him up the garden path. Whether Ankara will reconsider its hostile posture toward Israel remains to be seen, however.
Even Russia has conceded that Assad has gone too far. China appears to be the last major holdout. But that should come as no surprise from a Chinese leadership that has never regretted Tiananmen Square.
In the meantime, with Turks and Arabs raging it appears that the Obama administration will finally call for Assad's departure. It has taken months for Washington merely to impose tougher sanctions on Syria, even as it has been providing ever-increasing and more costly support to Franco-British efforts to bomb Qadaffi into oblivion. The inconsistency and indeed incoherence of the administration's Middle East policy is truly startling.
The Sunni Arabs have a clear objective with respect to Syria: the departure of an Alawi regime whose Shi'a Muslim credentials have been validated by Iran and who in turn has been Tehran's stalking horse in Lebanon and elsewhere. The Turks likewise know what they want: an end to the massacre of their Sunni coreligionists and the refugee flow that has followed in its wake. Washington may well want the same, but its action have barely kept pace with its rhetoric, and its rhetoric has only very recently become less muted.
There is some debate as to whether the administration should pull its courageous ambassador, Robert Ford, from Damascus. In general, it is more advantageous not to break relations: doing so results in a lack of useful insights about developing events in a turbulent environment. But it is difficult to see how the administration, having responded with excessive alacrity to the Arab League's calls for action against Qadaffi, should continue to lag behind the ultra-cautious Abdullah and his Gulf confreres.
There is little doubt that the Assad regime will not give in to the protesters. To do so could spell a counter-bloodbath against the minority Alawis. But Assad himself—with his ongoing incredible claims of fighting terrorists—and his closest associates have to go. Their departure might offer some hope that the Alawi community will reach some understanding with the rest of the Syrian nation, and perhaps recognize that Bashar's regime went too far in cozying up to Iran.
Washington should step out smartly and call for his exit, withdraw its ambassador, choke off all remaining direct, indirect and, to the extent possible, third-party financial and commercial dealings with the Syrian regime and push to have Assad declared a criminal. If it's good enough policy toward the Libyan dictator, it's certainly good enough for his Syrian counterpart.
Image by syriana2011